News & Opinion

Golf’s best parent-child duo? PNC scramble won’t tell us

Justin Thomas and father Mike Thomas
Justin Thomas and his father, Mike, a longtime club pro in Kentucky, will be the heavy favorites to win the PNC Championship next month, but that doesn’t mean they’re the best parent-child tandem in golf, Gary Van Sickle writes. Not by a long shot.

The PNC Championship, formerly known as the Father-Son Challenge, is made-for-TV fluff, but there's a better way

The best father-son golfing duo in the world is …

Tiger Woods and his 11-year-old son, Charlie, who will tee it up in next month’s PNC Championship (formerly known as the Father-Son Challenge)?

Justin Thomas and his dad, Mike, a club professional who is also a pretty good stick?

Defending Father-Son champions Bernhard and Jason Langer?

Probably not.

The answer to who is the best golfing duo, now or ever: No one can say.

“If you have a time machine, Percy and Peter Alliss would be contenders,” said Scottish golf writer John Huggan, a long-time Golf Digest contributor who has a healthy world view of the game and no shortage of sharp opinions. He added that Paul Broadhurst, whose son, Sam, plays the Challenge Tour in Europe, and Paul Lawrie, whose son Craig plays the EuroPro Tour, would be competitive with anyone.

There is no real answer to the question because there is one significant hole in the U.S. Golf Association’s championship schedule, and it’s not the 2020 cancellation of 10 of the USGA’s 14 annual championships. Those deletions were COVID-19’s fault. Thanks again, China. Don’t bother to send a Christmas card.

The USGA has no parent-child championship in its lineup. Just about every private club in America has one of those, even if they’re at varying levels of seriousness. Yet the USGA, proud of its many grow-the-game initiatives, doesn’t.

Couldn’t a real, honest-to-goodness national championship to determine a legit parent-child champion get some young folks’ attention?

In 2013, when the USGA announced plans to create men’s and women’s Four-Ball Championships that debuted two years later, it was a surprise because the governing body hadn’t started a new championship since 1987. I recall the USGA’s Mike Davis, who recently announced his retirement as executive director effective at the end of 2021, saying something then about how proud he was that the USGA finally filled in what he thought was a glaring omission in its championship presentations.

A few years later, I asked him whether the USGA thought about a father-son or parent-child championship. No, he said. The board never considered it.

That means we’re left with the PNC Championship, merely made-for-TV fluff. It’s a fun show. Besides Woods and Thomas, the field for Dec. 19-20 in Orlando, Fla., will include Annika Sorenstam and her father; Gary Player and his grandson; and John Daly, who just underwent bladder-cancer surgery early in hopes of recovering in time play with his son, John.

But the PNC Championship is a closed shop, with a non-championship format.

You have to be a major champion or a Players Championship winner to be in the field. That lets ex-Players champ Matt Kuchar in but leaves me and Colin Montgomerie out. (Monty would be a good addition; me, nahhh.)

The PNC format is 36 holes of scramble play, which allows one good player to carry a weaker (and possibly much weaker) teammate. That’s fine. This is a TV show, so it’s supposed to be fun. But every purist knows a scramble format isn’t real golf.

A true U.S. Parent-Child Championship would require sectional qualifying, 18 holes of stroke play at assorted sites around the country. Maybe the championship proper would have 36 teams, six of which would qualify via exemptions in order to accommodate a few top (as in ratings-worthy) tour players and their sons-daughters-fathers-mothers.

Remember, we’ve got to have eyeballs for this thing. No ratings means no sponsor, and that means no TV and no championship. Don’t forget, we’re doing this for the, uh, kids.

Because the idea is to identify the best team, the scramble format is out. Even best-ball play allows one player to carry too much of the load.

The Parent-Child should use stroke play and add the parent’s score to the child’s score for the team total.

There can be one tee for professionals and a forward tee for amateurs. No senior, women’s or junior tees. To be a fair fight, the ams have to play from the same tees. This event has to remain gender-neutral.

Do all that for 72 holes and you’ll find the real best parent-child duo.

It could be Old and Young Tom Morris or the Alliss men, as Huggan suggested, if a time machine were available. Come on, if I had a time machine, I would have used it to go back 20 years to buy Amazon stock at $10 a share so I’d be worth several billion now instead of several thousand.

Who’s the best golfing parent-child duo now? The PNC Championship won’t answer that question. It could provide you with revenue, however. You can wager on just about anything these days, and that apparently includes the PNC Championship. According to BetOnline.ag, Justin and Mike Thomas were 5-2 favorites to win. Tiger and Charlie Woods were 5-1, and Matt and 13-year-old Cameron Kuchar rated 7½-1. Jim and Tanner Furyk were listed at 8-1 odds. Daly and son and David Duval and son were 25-1.

Regardless of who wins the PNC Championship, it won’t settle the debate of who’s the No. 1 duo. Only a real championship will.

The odds of that happening are covered by the next four words: Don’t hold your breath.

Sign up to receive the Morning Read newsletter, along with Where To Golf Next and The Equipment Insider.